Days of the Cobras…
by Ronnie Hoyle

IT ISN’T all fun and games living on a tropical island although, for the most part, visitors think it is: there are a few things that you have to put up with to get the simple life…like ants by the millions and their cousins, the termites. And snakes, of course.

Termites recently drove me out of a cottage on picturesque Alona Beach on Panglao Island, Bohol: the hungry little beggars were eating it to pieces around me and it was threatening to fall down. Okay, not a really big problem…just take it to pieces and start again: nipa thatch and coconut lumber are cheap enough, and this cottage had been around for nearly 18 years and was almost at the end of its’ natural life.

It was when the guys were taking the cottage to bits to oust the non-paying guests that the troubles began in earnest: they found a cobra hiding in the walls. It was only just over a foot long…and that was only the start of the problems. Later in the day another three of various sizes turned up, and we were hardly at the start of the renovation.

They were all a nice olive-brown to old gold colour with some beautiful markings around the throat when they flared their hoods…but forget that: these brothers and sisters all carry deadly venom from the moment they start life…and I’d been innocently living with them!

Some wags claimed that as I was one of the nice guys, they wouldn’t have harmed me, so it was alright to stay in the cottage while work was being done – but even with that flattery I wasn’t taking any chances…not when a female can lay a clutch of 60 of the venomous little creatures.

The workers and the next door neighbour caught the four and bottled them up nicely in former plastic water containers and we could all see them admiring us through their individual see-through prison cells, although we weren’t quite sure what they were hissing at us: probably threats of a painful death if they could get free on some dark and stormy night…

They got fed, of course; a few tasty grasshoppers and one or two luckless lizards which got caught unaware, although you could see that most local people just wanted the snakes killed and out of harms way, and some guys working on the beach for the National Geographic Channel came to film the find for a future programme.

The problem was that these were only ‘nippers’ and the kids were getting lonely…and we were getting worried: we could not find mum and dad, not that either of them are particularly good parents; they just let their kids run wild and find their own way through life right from the start. It was just that if the kids were around, so were their parents – and none of us knew whether the toddlers were the brats of ‘ordinary’ cobras or the offspring of the fabled king cobra.
Both cobras are native to the Philippines and have claimed human victims in the past - although it is said that more people actually die from falling coconuts than from snake bites in the islands - but no one wanted to get too close for a medical check-up to prove what species they were.

They certainly had black beady eyes and some of the colouration of the king cobra, even at their age, and that was enough knowledge to be getting on with. The fact that the locals said it was ‘normal’ to find them under rocks and in gardens under piles of wood or in leaves only made it worse.
Some reports claim that the world’s longest poisonous snake, the king cobra, only lives on Palawan in the Philippines, where they can grow up to 18 ft from snout to tail tip and ‘stand up’ on their hind end to 3 ft high before striking out, although they usually end up nearer 12 ft long.

As for ‘my’ snakes, you can pop along and see them on display at Casa Nova Garden, Alona Beach, where they are still safely locked up in their prison cells…until we decide what to do with them after serving their sentences, and seeing whether they decide to grow up as king cobras or not.

We may decide to send them up the road to the island’s animal penitentiary, the Daks and Gams Wildlife Park in the middle of the island at Lourdes, if they will have them, where the warders there can look after them for the rest of their lives but, in the meantime, we’re still hoping to find someone who wants to milk the snakes of their venom and use their poison to make a serum against their own bite, but so far no luck. Any offers?